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Showing posts from April, 2010

The Vatican's Travails

I recently finished Henri Lefebvre's "Critique of Everyday Life", the 1991 Michel Trebitsch translation of which has just been republished in three paperback volumes by Verso. I'd been aware of this work's reputation since the '60s when it was a major influence on Guy Debord, but had never until now read it, and I was quite bowled over. Parts of it read badly now, as overly-pious Marxist rhetoric (it was first published in 1947) but there are other parts that display a brilliance unmatched by any current social critic. Most surprising of all is the lucid and poetic prose in which much of it's written, and nowhere more than in the odd essay that concludes Vol 1 called "Notes Written One Sunday in the French Countryside". In it Lefebvre describes his relationship to the Catholicism of his youth, provoked by a visit to a small country church. You really should read it all, but I'm quoting a few of the more powerful passages here as my modes…

Ghost in the Party Machine

I just read a thought-provoking review of Roman Polanski's "The Ghost" by Michael Wood in the LRB. Wood didn't think it was a  great movie, though he believes as I do that Polanski is a great director. What set me to thinking were two throwaway lines in his review: the first was that "Polanski has said that he is not interested in politics, and I believe him"; the second, about the movie's principal character Adam Lang (a Tony Blair figure) was that unlike everyone else he feels at home on the grim island because "he is a politician, he is indifferent to places: he brings himself along, so what more could he want?"

This triggered queries as to what politics means nowadays, and what it means not to be interested in it. Perhaps there are now three totally disjoint populations in the land:

1) those who are not interested in politics, which means in practice that they are only interested at worst in themselves, or at best in their families and fri…

Inequality Drives You Mad

Having watched the Election 2010 debate on TV last night, there remains no doubt in my mind that all three of the major UK parties are still wedded to economically illiterate neo-liberal policies - from which they can only be briefly and reluctantly budged, and to which they will revert as soon as the threat of economic armageddon recedes far enough for them to turn on the feel-good rhetoric again. In an extract from his new book "Ill Fares the Land" in the latest New York Review of Books, Tony Judt accuses the Left of a total failure of nerve on both sides of the Atlantic: "Social democrats today are defensive and apologetic. Critics who claim that the European model is too expensive or economically inefficient have been allowed to pass unchallenged. And yet, the welfare state is as popular as ever with its beneficiaries: nowhere in Europe is there a constituency for abolishing public health services, ending free or subsidized education, or reducing public provision of …

Systematically distorted communication

Systematically distorted communication, originally uploaded by dick_pountain. To celebrate our forthcoming election fun

Election 2010

My initial enthusiasm for New Labour after they drubbed the Tories in 1997 didn't last very long: it suffered a deep wound over the Bernie Ecclestone affair and then a took a fatal head shot from Blair's promotion of the Iraq invasion (I don't take the attitude that he was Bush's poodle: he pushed rather than followed Bush). Since then I've remained in a state of quiet fury as the party proved entirely incapable or unwilling to throw off the ideological mantle of Thatcherism that it donned in order to be returned to power.

Again, I don't take the orthodox Left line that New Labour entirely wasted its term in office. As I ride the 29 bus, free thanks to my Freedom Pass, past the eye-catching green tower of the new University College Hospital it would be deeply dishonest to claim that New Labour wasted all my tax pounds. No, what has infuriated me for the last 10 years is that while spending on worthwhile projects like these, the party has absolutely refused to …

Cox on the Box

I'm feeling an addict's first twinges of withdrawal now that Brian Cox's excellent BBC 2 science series Wonders of the Solar System has finished. I'll admit that I didn't warm to the series as soon as I should have, put off by press descriptions of Cox as the "Rock-Star Professor". His Jamie-Oliver-like elfin cuteness put my back up at first sight too, portending a torrent of Disney-fied gush and wonder, and I expected that the content would be a rehash of every other astronomy series of the past 20 years. I couldn't have been more wrong. 


Slowly but surely throughout the series Cox used the existence of the other bodies in our solar system as a framework on which to integrate all the latest findings in terrestrial geology, geography and biology, but in such a subtle fashion that you hardly noticed him doing it. He did plenty of whizzing around the world in helicopters, jet fighters and submarines to keep the Top Gear crowd watching, but never for the …